In her latest piece for WhichPLM, Lucy Blackley shares her concerns about our education system – and, in particular, how it’s setting graduates up to fail. Lucy is a PLM and Product Development expert and sits on WhichPLM’s Expert panel.
Last month I took on my first intern for the company I founded and directed. It started with a message on LinkedIn from a girl hungry for work, but with rejections being fired at her left, right, and centre for “not having enough experience”.
This lack of experience included assistant/admin roles for the fashion industry. Despite having two degrees and a mass amount of internships, the industry still required her to have essentially 30 years of experience (at the age of 27) and to do the job for next to nothing, all while working and living in London.
I understand we must have the experience to some extent, but surely our internships – alongside our education – should be enough to get us through the door? And, if not, perhaps we should be questioning the curriculums in place that are supposed to set us up for the world of work?
During my time in education, which was many years ago now, I started out in fashion design but by the third year, I had quit. I was uninspired and felt like I wasn’t learning an awful lot of hard skills that would take me through to employment. I moved on to another course (garment technology) that I thought could progress me into the industry I loved, and luckily for me, it was one of the few courses out there (based on feedback from multiple students from other universities) that gave students real-life scenarios and skills that could be taken into a career. I had absolutely no issues getting a job, and I didn’t have to work for anything to prove myself worthy of a position.
Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a job out of university; it’s very clear that something works, but this isn’t purely based on the ‘hard skills’ being taught within the further education system, and it is more likely because we have a piece of paper to hand and for some, worked what feels like a lifetime in unpaid internships.
Fashion is an industry that is seen to be ultra-modern and ever-changing – and it is …from a front-end perspective. But why is it that the teachings of the trade are outdated and not completely relevant to the actual jobs graduates are signing up for post-university?
Draping on the stand will always be a fun pastime for someone who enjoys fashion design, but it’s unlikely anyone is going to be doing much of this in today’s market unless they take up Haute Couturier in the French capital.
We’re aware of the change in retail, and how the high street is collapsing before us (discussed in my previous article, Love, Death, and PLM). It is not only retail that is changing, but also the connected industries at the backend of all those products releases that have to follow suit and refine themselves to match the ever-changing demands of the consumers.
Customers are not only changing the way they buy, but their actions are also having a domino effect on how they buy and, more importantly, why they buy based on the Internet of Things.
If we keep up the current format of how fashion education is conducted we, as a collective, could be shooting ourselves in the feet. Fashion is a very complex industry, and there are far too many avenues within it to become an expert over the course of 3 years. But adding real value through technology could be a major starting point to giving a near real-life experience of what a student would be doing in their chosen role.
The vast majority of students have no clue what a PLM system is, let alone a tech pack, a lab dip, or a strike-off. They may know how to make a bodice block with darts, but 9 times out of 10 wouldn’t know how to fit a garment that isn’t that said bodice block.
In fashion, digitalization has been slow to catch on – and by digitalization, I mean the true implementation of technology and not an Excel spreadsheet.
PLM is not a new thing, but it is only really coming to fruition as an essential within the industry as of the last few years, due to the more affordable solutions that are entering the market, meaning it is no longer only available for use of corporations, but the likes of startups and SMEs are also able to have the ‘luxury’ of streamlining their workflow.
This is why we should be teaching technology within fashion education in a larger sum than is being applied at present. If students are leaving university with the knowledge they can take with them into a company, it may be a possibility that the expectation of a ridiculous amount of experience for an assistant role is lowered.
This being said, I know budgets are tight within universities, and it saddens me that with tuition fees being so high, the offerings from some institutes are so low.
The students of today are our industry of tomorrow, and we should be supporting them in any way possible to build a better tomorrow for everyone within our creative world. It is those students that will one day be the innovators of the ‘next big thing’, and we shouldn’t be stunting their career development for the sake of wanting 3+ years of experience for an entry-level job.
It’s unnecessary, it’s unreasonable, and it’s unethical.
If you’ve resonated with this article, you may be pleased to know my fabulous intern has since had many interviews come her way, all through the addition of an industry-specific company being added to her CV.
It’s great that this is happening with another string to her bow, but equally, with two degrees, a mass amount of free labor, and previous roles in admin… this girl is more than ready for the world of work.
Businesses of fashion, we’re aware we want the best people for the job but aren’t we setting the ‘standards’ a little too high?
We all remember being in this exact same place, and we all probably questioned, “how can I get experience if nobody is willing to give me experience?” Yet here we are asking the exact same thing about a job we know a graduate is completely capable of doing.
Universities, please, we’re aware of the tight budgets, but let’s get techy; there are enough solutions out there to support our future innovators, and the students’ futures absolutely depend on it.